Cobia, a fish with an attitude! By Dr. Bogus
Ling, cabio, lemonfish, crab-eater, flathead, black salmon, black kingfish, sergeant fish and, runner are among the many monikers of this prized, hard fighting and tasty fish.
“This is a peculiar looking critter,” explains Capt. Ron McPherson, operator of Highlander Charters (Atlantic Beach, NC), “they actually look like a catfish got crossed up with a shark, that’s what these guys look like and in crossing them up it gave them a pretty bad attitude.”
And, every May, when local water temperatures nudge near 70-degrees, hopeful cobia looking for love chart a course from their more southerly winter digs to their North Carolina spawning grounds.
“The easiest way to find them and catch them,” said McPherson, “is when they are entering the sounds to spawn, so Bogue Inlet and Beaufort Inlet are good places and Barden’s Inlet at Cape Lookout.” “There are also some big ones caught inside “The Hook” and at Barden’s Inlet at the mouth of “The Hook”. There’s been some really big fish caught there over the last couple of years,” explained McPherson.
How about some other local hot spots? McPherson has several favorites, like the 20 to 25-ft. deep water slough that that runs behind Shackleford Banks, and Rough Point, which is on the east side of the Beaufort Channel as you pass Shackleford. As you continue moving into Bogue Sound from the Beaufort Inlet there is the Morehead City Port Turning Basin, and past the Atlantic Beach Causeway, along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), there area deep soughs off the ICW near Spooner’s Creek, another one near Pelletier Creek, that are popular deep water anchoring spots for cobia.
Now lets get down to business. “What you want to do,” said McPherson, “and we’re talking about boat fishing, is you’re going to be anchoring up, and some of the spots to anchor up are in Beaufort Inlet, I like the east side of the inlet in like 25-feet of water.”
This is not a light tackle fishery, so McPherson recommends some meaty tackle. “I use 50-pound class gear, “ said McPherson, so that you can sort of control him, there is no controlling this fish, just know when he bites and takes off it’s going to be really hard to slow him down, but the 50-pound class gear, rod, reel, line will help you do that.”
“For terminal tackle,” explains McPherson, “you need about seven or eight-foot of 80-pound test monofilament leader, and you’re going to attach a fish-finder rig with a six or eight-ounce pyramid sinker on it, that will hold your bait on the bottom, and a big 7/0, 8/0 or 9/0 hook.”
“One of the things that people miss on these fish”, said McPherson with a sigh, “is that when he picks your bait up, you’re anchored, your bait’s out on the bottom, and the reel starts clicking, you let him go! You let him run off, maybe 30, 40 or 50-feet, then he’ll sit down and then he will eat the bait. Think, grab, run, stop and eat! A lot of people don’t realize that. And when he eats the bait and starts his second run you engage the drag and sock it to him. If you don’t do that, you’ll pull the bait and hook out of his mouth before he’s had a chance to consume it. He’s a bit like a flounder when you’re fishing with big minnows, you don’t set the hook just as soon as the flounder picks it up, you let him run off with it first.”
Speaking of bait, cobia bait is typically some type of live bait, bluefish, pinfish, menhaden, or live blue crab, but you can also catch these fish on dead bait. Chumming also is a good tactic for luring the fish to your bait.
Now the battle begins. “After you set the hook, and start fighting this fish,” warned McPherson, “you may get him up to the boat, but when he sees the boat, he goes crazy and he will leave, and you will wind him backup again and he will leave again, and as long as he wants to do that it’s better to let him because the more you can wear him down the better off you are.”
Another warning, “If you bring one of these fish in the boat and he’s “green” he will hurt you,” explains McPherson, “an 80-pound fish will break your leg. To land the fish you can either use a big dip net if it’s a 20 or 30-pound fish, but for these big guys you’re going to have to gaff him. And when you gaff him…he doesn’t like the gaff, and so throw him in the boat and then the best thing to do is have a wet towel handy and throw the towel over his head, cover his eyes up, that will just chill rim right out. Or if you forget your towel, you didn’t get one out of the hamper, then a small bat applied directly to his forehead several times will chill him out. But I like the towel routine, because, put the towel over his head take the hook out and put him right in the fish box.
Final words of wisdom, if you see one swimming around the boat, some people might be tempted to free-gaff it! McPherson’s edict is “Never! Never, never, never free-gaff one of these animals! It will be really hazardous to your health, you and the gaff might be overboard or worse yet, you get him inboard and you will have the gunnels and he will have the deck.” Ouch!